article

01.20.10

America's Boob Police

Why is Heidi Montag hailed for showing off her surgically enhanced chest while Jessica Simpson is mocked for displaying natural cleavage? Meghan McCain on the double standard for double Ds.

Let’s face it—America is obsessed with breasts. In every form, on any woman, in every way. But lately I’ve noticed a more celebratory and mainstream acceptance of women who undergo augmentation surgery versus those of us whose breasts come from nature. As I see it, it’s just another facet of our Puritanical hypocrisy—as if one eye is a school marm obsessed with modesty, and the other is winking, begging for more more more.

Last week, Heidi Montag was on the cover of People magazine after going through an astounding 10 plastic surgeries—including a second round of breast implants. This time around, the 23-year-old Montag upgraded to a size DDD. Growing up, I always thought of People magazine as the classiest of the tabloids—they were one of the few celebrity magazines to have journalists assigned specifically to politics. So I was surprised by Montag’s gratuitous before-and-after spread, but maybe I shouldn’t have been.

What I wonder is: Would Christina Hendricks still be considered “big” if she had fake breasts instead of real ones?

Then a few days later, Christina Hendricks of Mad Men (who is, arguably, as known for her acting talents as she is for bringing back the voluptuous woman to Hollywood), walked down the red carpet at the Golden Globes in a Christian Siriano dress with a sweetheart neckline. Her appearance led to plenty of expected nudge-nudge headlines referring to her “assets” and “golden globes,” but it was New York Times fashion critic Cathy Horyn who really set me off. Not only did Horyn criticize Hendricks for her “exploding ruffle dress” but she also quoted a stylist who said, “You don’t put a big girl in a big dress. That’s rule number one.” One can only assume what aspect of her body the stylist was referring to when she said “big.” What I wonder is: Would Christina Hendricks still be considered “big” if she had fake breasts instead of real ones?

Similarly, Jessica Simpson recently went out to dinner in a low-cut dress, leading to instant drama in the Twitterverse. US Weekly even ran a story about it: “Jessica Simpson’s Big Breasts Are the Butt of Internet Jokes” (Despite rumors of breast augmentation, Simpson has always insisted her breasts are real.) Compounding the issue, she posted a picture of herself displaying a lot of cleavage, which caused a serious Twitpic backlash. ( I myself have a little experience in this department, so I am sympathetic to Simpson and others who are vilified for showing off their figures.) Even Simpson’s own father has weighed in on the issue. In 2004, he told an interviewer, “She’s got double Ds! You can’t cover those suckers up!”

The question I have is: Would everyone be so offended and insulted if her breasts were fake? Wouldn’t we celebrate her for showing off her new purchases, as though they were twin Escalades? I raise this question because it is something of a new, twisted paradox in American culture. Women with small breasts feel shamed or pressured into having cosmetic surgery to increase their breast size. Once they do, they are seemingly allowed to display them for all the world to see—as though we, too, are actually invested in this investment. Meanwhile, women with real breasts are shamed and pressured into only wearing high-cut dresses and blouses (or better, yet, turtlenecks!) lest they be ridiculed.

Surely there has to be some happy medium among Heidi Montag’s People cover, Christina Hendricks being referred to as a “big girl” because she didn’t attend an awards ceremony in a burqa, and Jessica Simpson being mocked for taking “her boobs out to dinner.” For all the strides we make as a society when it comes to talking about body image, there is still a real schizophrenia about what is ideal and acceptable. If one young woman decides she needs 10 different surgeries to be perfect, while another chooses to celebrate her body but is punished, how is anyone expected to feel good about herself?

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Meghan McCain is a columnist for The Daily Beast. Originally from Phoenix, she graduated from Columbia University in 2007. She is a New York Times bestselling children's author, previously wrote for Newsweek magazine, and created the Web site mccainblogette.com.